View from the Pew
Few Oahu Buddhists will see the Dalai Lama on Maui
Student groups from two Christian schools on Oahu will travel to Maui to hear the Dalai Lama speak Tuesday, but there's no one going from the Pacific Buddhist Academy.
The chance to hear the Tibetan Buddhist leader is reportedly drawing hundreds of travelers from elsewhere on the planet, but Oahu Buddhists won't be creating a parking problem at the interisland terminal.
That might puzzle someone with a simplistic view of world religions as big generic tents encompassing everyone who identifies as an adherent. That isn't any more true of Buddhism than it is of Christianity, which couldn't fit its diverse members on the same campground.
A translation: If the pope were coming to town, fundamentalist Christians wouldn't line the parade route.
There are probably as many denominations, sects, offshoots and divergent groups in Buddhism as there are in Christianity. Each is focused on its own historical and cultural tradition with lineage to specific teachers and particular segments of a huge body of scriptures generated in 2,500 years. Most of the Buddhist congregations in Hawaii were started by immigrants from Japan, and the denominations are still based in Japan.
They do, in recent years, get together with other temples for ecumenical celebrations such as Buddha's birthday. But the Thai, Cambodia, Vietnamese, Korean and Tibetan Buddhist groups celebrate separately. Shades of Catholic and Protestant.
The Dalai Lama "is not seen as a major figure within the local Buddhist community," said Alfred Bloom, retired minister of the Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin, the largest local Buddhist denomination. "I don't think anyone even talks about him. He's not a luminary."
Chaminade University Buddhism professor Poranee Natadecha-Sponsel said, "In the Japanese Buddhist tradition, they have their own leaders so people will say he's not our leader." That's not peculiar to the Japan brands. "We have our own leader in Thailand," she said. "There the Buddhist leader is called Sangha Rama, and he is equal to the king."
Bloom said that even within the small Tibetan school of esoteric, mystical Buddhism, there are different sects. The Tibetan Buddhist Center in Honolulu is linked to a different sect from the Dalai Lama. A center member said no formal delegation is going to Maui, but some members will go. Lama Karma Rinchen was invited to the consecration of a stupa -- memorial monument -- at the Maui Dharma Center, the main reason for the Dalai Lama's visit.
Natadecha-Sponsel will take eight of her students from the Catholic university to hear the Dalai Lama. "He is an international figure. His message transcends Buddhist teaching. Everyone can relate to his universal message of peace and happiness."
An Episcopal Church school group will be in the Maui stadium for the Tuesday talk on "The Human Approach to World Peace." The interest of 45 students from the Iolani School Peace Institute, traveling with 22 faculty and parents, is on the Dalai Lama as Nobel Prize laureate. The Peace Institute curriculum fosters "inner peace, peace with other people and peace with the natural environment," said teacher Peter Greenhill. "He has always been a strong advocate for peace and nonviolence. His life is based on practicing inner peace."
Bloom said the Dalai Lama appeals to the "general Western approach to religion. He has the notoriety of a political refugee and religious figure. He is thoughtful and knows how to relate it to modern thought. Westerners admire that. Within Buddhism itself, he doesn't have that stature."
A Honolulu resident who's heading for Maui probably best described the lure of the famous speaker coming to town. Reynold Feldman, a Catholic convert of Jewish ethnic origins who has studied Zen practices of Vietnam Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Thanh, said, "There are two world-class religious figures in the world today, the pope and the Dalai Lama. I would like a chance to see both of them before I die."